The Westwood College has for many years denied claims of deceptive marketing and enrollment practices. Last month, the college made a decision of not recruiting new students in their system after an agreement was reached upon with the Illinois attorney general’s office to clear out $15 million student loans. The Westwood College has made a series of such agreements before and in the year 2012, the institution made a $4.5million with the attorney of Colorado in what is believed to be another deceptive marketing.
Westwood College is a for-profit institution which is located in Colorado under the umbrella of Alta Colleges Company. The institution has 14 satellites in the region. The college in 2007 was pushed to make a settlement of $7 million to the US Department of Justice after it was convicted after filing false allegations for state student aid.
The root cause of this institution downfall?
The main cause of this menace can be attributed to the U.S Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois who has set an eye on this college. It was evidenced by the reports based on views of former students, employees and others that brought anger in Durbin.
Speaking in an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Durbin said “It was the deception of Westwood College that started me on this journey to investigate for-profit schools. They were one of the most outrageous examples of for-profit schools, and their victims, sadly, were idealistic young people who didn’t realize that Westwood was a phony university. I’m glad they’re going out of business. Now I hope we can bring some relief to their victims.”
Westwood College released an official statement confirming the recent decision and said, “We are proud of our tradition dating back to 1953 of helping nearly 40,000 graduates reach their education and career goals. Westwood College has been through an extended period of declining enrollments due to market shifts and changes in the regulatory environment. Now Westwood College has made the difficult decision to discontinue all new student enrollments as of today. We are working diligently to continue to provide a quality academic experience for our current students at each of our campuses and our online school. Campus services will continue to be available to students and graduates throughout this process.”
However, Durbin said that there has been a lot of cases where students enroll for academic degrees and later they become irrelevant in the job market since their courses are not accredited. He narrates a story of young lady who from Chicago who enrolled at Westwood to pursue law. After five years in school, she had accumulated a debt of $80, 000 only to find out later that her course was not accredited.
Alta colleges the mother company for Westwood College was among the 30 for-profit education companies that were investigated in 2012 in a report by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and it was named one of the most expensive institutions to be examined by the committee. Major findings of the report indicated that it costs more than $80, 000 to pursue a degree in business administration and more than $ 48, 000 to pursue a degree in information technology.
According to Elizabeth Baylor one of the senior investigators on the Senate’s HELP committee, pilling on of a lawsuits against for-profits may not be the best way of dealing with deceptive practices for-profits colleges. In her statement, she said that “Enforcement and lawsuits are one of the routes of remedy we have, but it’s not the best route we have to stop abusive practices. It’s better to change the incentives and rules, so colleges don’t skirt up close to the line,” she said. “The best practice is to curb things early on … $15 million is a lot of money to an individual, but in 2009 [Westwood] earned $33 million in profit at the operating organization.”
What are the facts?
Despite the fact that Westwood confirmed it will not take new students, Baylor said that it will continue exploiting the existing students. “They’ve announced they’re freezing enrollment, so they’re no longer bringing in new students, but as long as they continue to offer existing programs those students are on the hook for the money they’ve borrowed,” Baylor said.
Similar sentiments were shared by Durbin who expressed his concerns about students who are already enrolled in for-profit schools that have been questioned due to their integrity. He said that “It’s really hard for these students. We’ve had law on the books for many years that say these loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, so students are facing debt that can haunt them for a lifetime. Some are so deep in debt, they’ll never get out,” he said.
“The federal government has to answer for some of this deception. We recognized the accreditation of these fly-by-night schools. We sent Pell Grants and government loans to the students, giving our tacit approval to their curriculum, and it wasn’t until the students were in over their heads with a worthless diploma or dropping out that they realized that they had been defrauded.”
Who is being held responsible?
In September last year, the team conducting investigations introduced a legislation that gave more power to the education department so as to question institutions executives in case of such frauds. They legislature was very categorical requiring the executives to be held personally responsible for any federal student aid funds that should be repaid to the government.
Durbin in his attempt to justify the legislation said, “The first obligation is congressional. We need to change the laws to protect students and their families from the deception of for-profit schools. By allowing them to demand arbitration clauses, for example, it’s a guarantee they will not be held accountable for much of their misconduct.”
Durbin gave credit to the attorney generals in Illinois and Colorado by their firm actions of holding institutions such as Westwood accountable for their actions rather than looking upon the federal interagency to do so.